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Jacqueline Mitelman, Olivia 2008, inkjet print, 53 x 39 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

I know I keep banging on about TarraWarra Museum of Art.  I can’t help myself.  Once again it’s captured my attention.  Two exhibitions opened in the middle of October. The works above and below belong to one of them. Facetime is an exhibition of photographs taken over the last three decades by the 2011 National Photographic Portrait Prize winner Jacqueline Mitelman.

I’ve chosen five photographs to whet your appetite.  There are many many more, notably portraits of Michael Leunig, Leon Fink, Xavier Herbert and Alan Marshall. My choice of five women beautifully demonstrates Jacqueline Mitelman’s ability to elevate photography to art.

With each image, something important is being said about the sitter. Something particular to the sitter but also universal.  We see grief, youth, intellect and old age, subtly but unmistakeably captured.  Simple classical compositions and clever use of lighting heighten the drama.  The beauty of youth in the image Olivia (above) had me involuntarily gasp when I first brought it up on the screen.  Youth in all its loveliness and intensity.

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Jacqueline Mitelman, Emma de Clario 2008, inkjet print, 53 x 39 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Such is the power of this artist to engage the viewer in the emotional charge of the moment that I found myself wanting to scoop Emma de Clario up, or offer her a cup of tea. In fact, to do anything that would assuage her sadness.

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Jacqueline Mitelman, Germaine Greer 1988, inkjet print, 43 x 36 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

I remember seeing an interview with Germaine Greer many years ago.  She was asked what she likes doing the most.  Her simple answer, “thinking”, was a revelation to a daydreamer like me. She spoke eloquently (of course) about the delight she takes in it. In this portrait, she is thinking… beautifully. Her thoughtful gaze is appropriately directed toward the light. In it we see Jacqueline Mitelman’s mastery of subtlety.

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Jacqueline Mitelman, Louise 2009, inkjet print, 53 x 38 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Actor, Louise was present at the opening. I had to look twice to recognize her.  Jacqueline Mitelman has ‘composed’ her like a Dutch master might arrange his subject for painting.  Then there’s the brilliant use of the folds in the background drapery, providing a counterpoint to that ‘don’t mess with me’  stare.

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Jacqueline Mitelman, Christina Stead 1981, inkjet print, 43 x 29 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

This portrait took me straight to my reading of “The Man Who Loved Children” many years ago.  The ever present wisdom in the novels of Christina Stead is written on every surface of her face and hands.  Her eyes are softened by years of intricate observation of the human condition, steadfast in the meaning she has made of it.

I think it’s fair to say that all of the images in Facetime are monumental in character and breathtaking in effect. This is a quintessential Australian exhibition, full of the richness of talent, humanity and achievement of both the artist and the people who live here.

“The works in the exhibition will be (are) complemented by loose, unframed photos arranged chronologically in two display cases, recording, with vitality and tenderness, many individuals well known to us from recent history.” from TWMA Press Release.

It’s true to say that you have until February 12, 2012 to see this exhibition. However, I feel compelled to mention that the Yarra Valley is wearing a cloak of the most magnificent jewel green colour, courtesy of the recent abundant rain.  You might like to make a trip out in the not too distant future before the summer sun bleaches it straw yellow.

TarraWarra Museum of Art is the first significant, privately funded, publicly owned art museum in Australia.

All photographs in this post are Jacqueline Mitelman©